Along with their major-based cousins, minor type chords are some of the most commonly used in the jazz idiom, as they make up one of the three chords in the classic ii-V-I chord progression.
There are two basic minor chord qualities used in jazz, m7 and m6 chords, both of which are explored thoroughly in this lesson.
As well, when first exploring these minor chord qualities, learning the Drop 2 and Drop 3 chord shapes will give you a strong understanding of each chord type on a variety of string sets around the fretboard.
Once you have explored these minor chords, both Drop 2 and Drop 3, you will be ready to expand your vocabulary by moving on to more advanced grips such as 4th chords and rootless voicings, as well as add more colors to these minor chords, such as m11 and m9 shapes.
Find out more about major chords with the Major Jazz Guitar Chords lesson.
If you're not sure how guitar chords are built, I suggest you read the jazz guitar chord theory tutorial.
You can find some more complex minor chords here: Advanced Minor Chords.
The first group of chords we will look at are Drop 3 m7 chords with the 6th string as the lowest note of each grip.
These chords use the following interval structure, no matter what key you are in, and so you can memorize this table to help you build any Drop 3 m7 chord across the fretboard from a theoretical standpoint.
|Drop 3 m7 root position||R||b7||b3||5|
|Drop 3 m7 1st inversion||b3||5||R||b7|
|Drop 3 m7 2nd inversion||5||b3||b7||R|
|Drop 3 m7 3rd inversion||b7||5||R||b3|
Now that you know how to build Drop 3 m7 chords, let's take a look at how these chords fit on the fretboard by learning all four inversions of a Cm7 chord.
Once you can play these shapes from memory over a Cm7 chord, take them to all 12 keys across the fretbaord so that you can see and hear how these four shapes sound in every key.
Once you have memorized each Drop 3 m7 shape from the previous example, you're ready to move on to learning how to build Drop 3 m6 shapes.
When you want to build a Drop 3 m6 chord, the easiest way is to lower the b7 by one fret, a half step, to produce a m6 chord shape and sound.
When doing so, you will produce a m7b5 chord built from the 6th of the underlying root note.
This means that if you want to play Cm6, you can play any inversion of Am7b5, as both contain the same notes, but the root note is different for each chord quality.
|Drop 3 m6 Root Position||R||6||b3||5|
|Drop 3 m6 1st Inversion||b3||5||R||6|
|Drop 3 m6 2nd Inversion||5||b3||6||R|
|Drop 3 m6 3rd Inversion||6||5||R||b3|
Armed with your knowledge of how to build each inversion of a Drop 3 m6 chord, you're now ready to take them to all 12 keys on the fretboad.
Once you have memorized the following m6 shapes around the neck, try playing Cm7-Cm6 in each inversion to see how you move one note between the two on the fretboard, as well as hear the similarities and differences between these two common minor chords.
You will notice that we haven't looked at any Drop 2 minor chords yet, and this is because that those shapes tend to sound muddy on the lowest string set.
So, once you have the Drop 3 m7 and m6 shapes on the 6th string under your fingers, you will be ready to explore them and their Drop 2 cousins on the 5th-string root in the next section.
We will now move on to playing Drop 3 m7 chords with the 5th string as the lowest note of each grip.
Since all Drop 3 chords, on any string set, have the same interval structure, you are able to dive right in to learning these chords on the gutiar as the interval struture is already under your belt.
Here are four Cm7 Drop 3 chords on the 5th string to start out with, and then move on to the other 11 keys from there.
As well, you can work on playing Drop 3 m6 chords with the 5th string as the lowest note, with the interval structure remaining the same from the 6th-string versions you learned earlier.
Once you have these, and the m7 chords, learned on the 5th string, try mixing them up with the 6th-string grips from earlier in this chapter.
So, play all four inversions of Cm7 on the 6th string, then all four inverisons of Cm7 on the 5th string, to produce eight shapes for this one m7 chord on the fretboard.
Moving on to our first set of Drop 2 chords, m7th shapes, you can learn how to build each chord from an intervallic standpoint before taking these chords onto the fretboard.
Notice that the Drop 2 chords don't have any wide intervals, as the Drop 3 chords did, and so there will be no string skips with these shapes when you begin to play them on the gutiar.
|Drop 2 m7 Root Position||R||5||b7||b3|
|Drop 2 m7 1st Inversion||b3||b7||R||5|
|Drop 2 m7 2nd Inversion||5||R||b3||b7|
|Drop 2 m7 3rd Inversion||b7||b3||5||R|
Here are those Drop 2 m7 chords on the fretbaord in all four inversions, starting with Cm7 to get them under your fingers and into your ears.
When you have these chords down, try playing the four inversions of Cm7 Drop 3 chords on the 5th string, followed by all four inversions of Drop 2 Cm7 chords on the 5th string, in order to compare these two groups of chords by both sound and shape on the neck.
Moving on to Drop 2 m6 chords on the 5th string, you are going to use the same technique as you did with Drop 3 chords, and simply lower the b7 from the previous chord grips to produce four inversions of m6 chords.
As was the case with the Drop 3 chords, if you play Cm6, it contains the same notes as Am7b5, so that relationship remains the same no matter what type of m6 chord you are playing.
|Drop 2 m6 Root Position||R||5||6||b3|
|Drop 2 m6 1st Inversion||b3||6||R||5|
|Drop 2 m6 2nd Inversion||5||R||b3||6|
|Drop 2 m6 3rd Inversion||6||b3||5||R|
Here are four inversions of Drop 2 Cm6 chords on the 5th string to explore in the practice room, first in this key and then in all 12 keys around the neck.
Once you can do that, try playing the four Drop 2 Cm7 chords followed by these Drop 2 Cm6 chords in order to see/hear how they sound side-by-side on the guitar.
You now have eight ways to play m7 and eight ways to play m6 chords on the guitar.
With all of these harmonic knowledge you are ready to jam over your favorite jazz tune and never be lost for a minor chord shape.
But, just to be safe and complete our study of these shapes, let's take a look at Drop 2 chords on the top four strings, which are used for comping, chord melody and chord soloing ideas.
Since the interval forumlas for Drop 2 m7 and m6 chords are the same for each string set, you are ready to take these shapes onto the guitar right away on the top four strings.
Once you have these shapes under your fingers, try playing all eight Cm7 Drop 2 chords on both the 5th and 4th strings to see and hear how they sound when played back-to-back on the neck.
Here are four Cm6 chord shapes that you can practice in this key before taking them to all 12 keys around the guitar.
Again, you can practice playing both m7 and m6 shapes on the top four strings back to back to hear how they sound similar yet both have a unique color when played on their own.
Learning to play minor chords on the guitar can be tricky at first, but once you get some or all of these shapes under your fingers and into your playing all the hard work will be worth it.
When these chords are familiar to you, put on a backing track for a tune such as "Maiden Voyage" or "So What" and comp along using any/all of the chords from this lesson.